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COVID-19: Threat of third wave in Africa rising – WHO

By Moses Emorinken, Abuja

The World Health Organization (WHO) has described the threat of a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the African region ‘as real and rising’ even as it validated China’s Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine, otherwise known as CoronaVac, for emergency use.

It therefore urged countries to brace up and strengthen their health systems by investing in critical care capacities, which will pay dividends for the COVID-19 response.

It further expressed concern that the gap between COVID-19 vaccinations globally and on the African continent is increasing, despite the best efforts of African countries, because of vaccine inequity.

The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, made these known during a press briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic and treatment in Africa.

She said: “The threat of a third wave in Africa is real and rising. Vaccines are key to staving off a new surge and keeping the most vulnerable Africans out of critical care. Vaccines are a gift that we will keep on giving.

“Nearly 20 African countries have now used more than two-thirds of the doses they have received, and many of these countries are ready, willing and able to rapidly roll out more.

“As we are expecting a surge, it is important to strengthen health systems now to save lives. Public health measures remain important to prevent infections that can later become hospitalisations.

On China’s Sinovac vaccine, the organisation noted that aside from having easy storage requirements, the vaccine has an efficacy of preventing symptomatic disease in 51 percent of those vaccinated, and prevented severe COVID-19 and hospitalisation in 100 percent of the studied population.

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The WHO therefore recommended the vaccine for use in adults 18 years and older, in a two-dose schedule with a spacing of two to four weeks.

It, however, does not recommend it for the upper age limit (60 years and above).

It urged countries using the vaccine in older age groups to conduct safety and effectiveness monitoring to verify the expected impact and contribute to making the recommendation more robust for all countries.

According to a statement by the United Nations global health body, “The WHO today validated the Sinovac-CoronaVac COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, giving countries, funders, procuring agencies and communities the assurance that it meets international standards for safety, efficacy and manufacturing. The vaccine is produced by the Beijing-based pharmaceutical company, Sinovac.”

The WHO Assistant-Director General for Access to Health Products, Dr. Mariângela Simão, according to the statement, said: “The world desperately needs multiple COVID-19 vaccines to address the huge access inequity across the globe.

“We urge manufacturers to participate in the COVAX facility, share their knowhow and data and contribute to bringing the pandemic under control.”

WHO’s Emergency Use Listing (EUL) is a prerequisite for COVAX Facility vaccine supply and international procurement. It also allows countries to expedite their own regulatory approval to import and administer COVID-19 vaccines.

The statement added: “The EUL assesses the quality, safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, as well as risk management plans and programmatic suitability, such as cold chain requirements. The assessment is performed by the product evaluation group, composed by regulatory experts from around the world and a Technical Advisory Group (TAG), in charge of performing the risk-benefit assessment for an independent recommendation on whether a vaccine can be listed for emergency use and, if so, under which conditions.

“In the case of the Sinovac-CoronaVac vaccine, the WHO assessment included on-site inspections of the production facility.

“The Sinovac-CoronaVac product is an inactivated vaccine. Its easy storage requirements make it very manageable and particularly suitable for low-resource settings.

“WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation (SAGE) has also completed its review of the vaccine. On the basis of available evidence, WHO recommends the vaccine for use in adults 18 years and older, in a two-dose schedule with a spacing of two to four weeks. Vaccine efficacy results showed that the vaccine prevented symptomatic disease in 51 percent of those vaccinated and prevented severe COVID-19 and hospitalisation in 100 percent of the studied population.

Earlier in the week, during a joint press briefing of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), the WHO and UNICEF, on updates on vaccination, the WHO Country Representative, Dr. Kazadi Mulombo, stated: “We need to be aware that on the African continent, over the past week, we have observed a 20 percent increase in the number of new cases for COVID-19.

“While it is still early to talk about a third wave, there is already a signal for what will happen if we let down our guards. Until we can cover the proportion we anticipated to cover for vaccination, we need to continue to observe non-pharmaceutical interventions alongside vaccination.”

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